‘YOU ARE WRONG’: Why it’s time to address lack of specialist eating disorder services

‘YOU ARE WRONG’: Why it’s time to address lack of specialist eating disorder services

ValerieDiMascioBy Valerie Di Mascio, Canada

As a teenager, I struggled with anorexia but was never diagnosed. At the time, I could not see that my eating behaviours were a problem, and therefore I never sought support.

During my first few years in university I struggled a lot and failed to reach my potential in school. Education, always being such an important part of my life, along with my desire to become a mental health care professional, I somehow managed to recover just enough to thrive in school. I graduated with distinction with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario.

I graduated from nursing school in 2010 and was excited to begin my professional career as a registered nurse. I did my “duty” as a medical nurse for my first year and was excited, at the end of 2011, to start applying for jobs in the mental health field. I specifically wanted to work in the specialty of eating disorder treatment.

It was then I realized only ONE organization provides services to those struggling with an eating disorder in York Region, where I was living. The organization, Eating Disorders of York Region’s Riverwalk Wellness Centres, is not covered by OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan), meaning that in order to utilize their services, one must pay out of pocket.

“Why are services for such serious mental illnesses so scarce?”
This revelation devastated me because eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that warrant the inclusion of treatment programs within many demographic regions. So I asked myself, “Why are services for such serious
mental illnesses so scarce?”

The sad answer is that there is such stigma towards eating disorders. Many, including health care professionals, still believe an eating disorder to be a choice, vanity at its ugliest.

The reason I am writing this is to scream at the top of my lungs “YOU ARE WRONG!” Eating disorders are deadly mental illnesses. They are highly genetic, biological, and difficult to treat. They are serious diseases that affect one’s quality of life, including their ability to work. This only exacerbates the problem of receiving the support they need because too often that support is not covered and one must pay out of their own pocket. This is why we need more programs (especially ones that are covered by insurance), more specialists, more training, more research, and
mostly, more empathy and understanding towards those who struggle and their families.

Not simply “teen phase or vanity”
As for my story, my eating disorder came back with a vengeance after starting work as a Registered Nurse. It became painstakingly clear that what I struggled with as a teenager was not simply “a teen phase or vanity.” I had a mental illness and it was not going to just go away on its own. As a young adult, I was able to acknowledge I had a problem and seek help this time.

Though I was able to eventually find support through the Toronto General Hospital, my options were limited and the wait was long and frustrating. After completing both their Inpatient and day hospital programs, in order to receive continued support, I had to pay out of my own pocket.

The thing is, there are very few eating disorder specialists, and even fewer OHIP covered ones. My hope for World Eating Disorders Action Day is for all of us to work together to raise awareness so that one day there will be less obstacles to receiving help for an eating disorder, more government covered support, and more continued care options, so that the incidence of relapse and death decreases.

I want to make one thing very clear. I truly believe that full recovery from an eating disorder is possible when the right support is available. Two of the most important factors to achieving full recovery are 1) early intervention, and 2) continued aftercare. Research shows that evidence based practices such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Maudsley Family Based Treatment, and newer therapies like Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) and Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), are highly effective in treating eating disorders. Relapse Prevention is essential to holding on to recovery. Had I received such treatment early on and continued with relapse prevention support, I believe I would have recovered much earlier. This is why it is crucial to make such support readily available to anyone who struggles with an eating disorder.

About Valerie
I live independently in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. I am a registered nurse, but plan to get my Masters in social work or psychology soon so that I may help to support eating disorder sufferers at a professional level. I am an advocate for eating disorder awareness because I strongly believe that those who struggle deserve the same level of validation and support as those who struggle with a medical illness such as diabetes.

Here are links to treatment options for teens and adults with an eating disorder:
Eating Disorders of York Region: http://www.edoyr.comToronto General Hospital Eating Disorder Clinic:
http://www.uhn.ca/MCC/PatientsFamilies/Clinics_Tests/Eating_Disorder
North York General Hospital Eating Disorders Programs: http://nygh.on.ca/Default.aspx?cid=1230&lang=1
Credit Valley Eating Disorders Clinic:
http://trilliumhealthpartners.ca/patientservices/mentalhealth/pages/eating%20disorders.aspx
The Hospital for Sick Children Eating Disorders Program:
http://www.sickkids.ca/AdolescentMedicine/What-We-Do/Programs/Eating%20Disorders%20Program/
Southlake Regional Health Centre Eating Disorders Services: http://www.southlakeregional.org/Default.aspx?cid=609
Homewood Health Centre: http://www.homewoodhealth.com/health-centre
Sheena’s Place: http://sheenasplace.org
Danielle’s Place: http://www.daniellesplace.org
National Initiative for Eating Disorders: http://nied.ca
National Eating Disorders Information Centre: http://www.nedic.ca

Join Valerie in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.